Crossbench calls for pairing arrangements due to COVID-19 restrictions

26 Aug 2021
Crossbench pairing letter

Crossbenchers have called on the major parties to introduce a pairing system that includes independent and minor party MPs during the COVID-19 restrictions, saying the current arrangement gives the Government an artificially inflated margin on the floor of the House of Representatives.

Many MPs are using video-conferencing technology to attend Parliament, meaning they are unable to vote in divisions. While the Government and the Opposition have pairing arrangements with each other, the crossbench is not included.

Unlike MPs in major parties, the crossbenchers have been forced to choose between having their vote reflected in Parliament, or being present in their communities during the pandemic.

The Government currently has a one seat majority in the House of Representatives. Under current arrangements, if five MPs crossed the floor on a bill, the Government would still maintain its majority. This is not what the Australian people voted for.

In a letter to Leader of the House Peter Dutton and Manager of Opposition Business Tony Burke, the entire crossbench called for a more democratic arrangement.

Co-signed by Helen Haines, Zali Steggall, Rebekha Sharkie, Adam Bandt, Andrew Wilike, Bob Katter and Craig Kelly, the letter calls for the parties to accommodate the voting intention of the crossbenchers in real time on a case-by-case basis, as already happens in the Senate.

“The default government majority artificially increases whenever a member of the crossbench remotes into Parliament,” the crossbenchers said.

“The base number of government and non-government MPs in the chamber should be equal at all times. Instead, under the current arrangements this sitting, there are 23 government MPs and 18 non-government MPs – 16 opposition MPs and 2 crossbench MPs.”

The crossbench wants the Senate system of pairing for independents replicated in the House of Representatives.

“We believe these arrangements are more democratic than recording the mere voting intention of members of the crossbench after the fact in the Votes and Proceedings, which has no material effect on a vote,” the letter said.

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